This article will appear in the July 2018 issue with the headline “The Italian Two-Step.”
Among the crop of new Dallas dining destinations, Perfect Union Pizza Co. and Fachini make the strangest of strange bedfellows. Owned by local celebrity chefs Nick Badovinus and Julian Barsotti, the Italian restaurants are stacked one on top of the other in the same shopping center and are definitely chasing the same upscale-customer dollar. But instead of trying to kill each other, they’re all love love, kiss kiss.
At Fachini, which has the upstairs perch, the menu wallows in old-school Italian American classics, the waiters wear tuxes, and Dean Martin is on the sound system, belting out his 1953 monster hit, “That’s Amore.” At Perfect Union, on the ground floor, the servers wear mismatched T-shirts from other Dallas businesses, the menu runs to fun takes on Italian standards (especially pizza), and the music is eighties new wave (think Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf”). The odd restaurant pairing happened after both chefs got wind of news that a prime lease was up for grabs in Highland Park Village. “Nick actually had a verbal commitment,” says Barsotti, “but I called him anyway, just to talk.” To Barsotti’s surprise, Badovinus had a novel idea. “He suggested that we split the space, do complementary concepts, and each invest a little in the other’s action.” Asked about the partnership, Badovinus was equally enthusiastic. “It just happened to work out in this neat kind of yin-yang,” he told me. “It’s like it was meant to be.”
The first of the two to open was Badovinus’s Perfect Union, which got going in early April. It has the tongue-in-cheek style that its gregarious owner has perfected at his laid-back Neighborhood Services restaurants and his swanky Town Hearth steakhouse. When friends and I dropped by in May, we initially grabbed a seat inside so we could check out the artwork, a lineup of gleaming, custom-designed skateboard decks and a 1963 Ducati Mountaineer motorcycle. The weather was so nice, though, that we soon moved out to the courtyard. Inspecting the menu, we considered starting with a couple of salads but vetoed them for the trio of meatball sliders, a playful version with excellent buns (fluffy garlic knots) and problematic meatballs (robust seasoning, dense texture). Next up was the Rigo Bolo, a big ol’ bowl of rigatoni in a beefy, long-cooked Bolognese. I liked it, but a little went a long way. By far the best entrée we tried was the roasted chicken, a tender half bird that came snuggled up to a soft hunk of house-made ricotta and a pool of super-lemony, charred tomato–brown butter sauce.
The Jonny Slaps pizza at Perfect Union.
Photograph by Trevor Paulhus
The interior of Perfect Union.
Photograph by Trevor Paulhus
But let’s face it: we were really here for the pizza, a subject that 47-year-old Badovinus knows a thing or two about. He’s an old hand at Neapolitan, but this time he had New York and New Haven styles in mind. The end result: thirteen-inch pies with crusts that are thin but not crackery (his word),are pliable but not droopy, and puff magnificently as they brown during three fast minutes in the 700-degree deck oven. As for the toppings, we debated designing our own but opted for the very fine Jonny Slapps (a white pie with smoked Italian bacon, egg, thickened cream, and a pretty tangle of green pea tendrils) and the dynamite It’s Sausage (with caramelized onions and Honeycrisp apple slices fanned out on top).
Fachini opened at the end of April, directly above Perfect Union, and is the realization of a lifelong dream of its 37-year-old owner. “I grew up in Dallas eating Italian American food,” says Barsotti, “and I’ve always wanted to do an homage to its heyday, the fifties and sixties.” His other restaurants—Nonna, Carbone’s, and Sprezza—are perfectly straightforward. But with Fachini, he pulled out all the stops. “It’s all about theater,” he says, sounding slightly giddy. And I have to say, the illusion he’s created is pretty persuasive. When you see the cappuccino-colored leather booths and gleaming navy Venetian plaster walls and hear Ol’ Blue Eyes singing “Strangers in the Night,” you’re transported to an earlier time and place.
There are plenty of extravagant old-school touches at the fantasyland Barsotti has developed in concert with his chef de cuisine, Jarred Russell. If you want to jump in with both feet, you might go for the veal parmigiana, tender white meat from a stupendous whole chop pounded into a giant cutlet and smothered in creamy tomato sauce and homemade mozzarella.
Another worthwhile extravagance is the toasted lobster ravioli, that St. Louis specialty of deep-fried pasta filled with a creamy sauce and good-sized chunks of lobster meat. But if there is one dish you must try, it’s the hundred-layer Lasagna alla Sunday, a riff on the totally outrageous original created in 2010 at Del Posto, in New York. Each slice of the twelve-inch-high lasagna, wisely served lying on its side, is a deep dive into house-made noodles, oregano-zapped ragù, multiple cheeses, and ground Berkshire pork and wagyu beef. But what makes it more than just another knockoff is the secret cache of roasted pulled pork and chopped-up meatballs hidden underneath, along with a sybaritic pool of long-simmered red sauce. Says Barsotti, “The dish is fine the way Del Posto does it, but when we added the extras, suddenly it popped. Now it’s really like the Sunday gravy”—referring to the famous Italian American after-church specialty—“that my grandmother Gloria Fachini used to make.”
If the lasagna wins the award for the dish most likely to be Instagrammed, two of the non–red sauce dishes get my personal vote for best in show. The first is the lush wagyu tenderloin, which tastes almost buttery despite being super lean. The second is the sole piccata, a lemon-spritzed filet of fish covered in a hailstorm of capers and julienned fried leeks. I won’t deny that it violated two of my core beliefs: first, that seasonings and extras should not overwhelm a dish and, second, that seafood is better when cooked medium-rare. But was that svelte sole the epitome of the over-the-top style that ruled generations ago? Did it—along with all of Fachini’s deliberately stagy antics like chair pulling, napkin folding, and tableside Caesar salads—take me back to a time I hadn’t thought of in decades? Absolutely.
At the end of the evening, as I watched diners from the two restaurants straggle across the parking lot, I wondered whether both places would be here a year from now. Personally, I like options. Sometimes I want to be wined and dined. Sometimes I just want a pizza and a beer. I think both places will be around and going strong.
Perfect Union 214-559-4245 L & D 7 days. Opened April 4, 2018
Fachini 214-838-9688 D 7 days. Opened April 25, 2018